Unsurprising result

Mudrik, Breska, Lamy and Deouell have published a paper, Integration without Awareness: expanding the limits of unconscious processing. It will appear in June’s Psychological Science. Unfortunately, I do not have access to it. Here is the abstract:

Human conscious awareness is commonly seen as the climax of evolution. However, what function—if any—it serves in human behavior is still debated. One of the leading suggestions is that the cardinal function of conscious awareness is to integrate numerous inputs—including the multitude of features and objects in a complex scene—across different levels of analysis into a unified, coherent, and meaningful perceptual experience. Here we demonstrate, however, that integration of objects with their background scenes can be achieved without awareness of either. We used a binocular rivalry technique known as continuous flash suppression to induce perceptual suppression in a group of human observers. Complex scenes that included incongruent objects escaped perceptual suppression faster than normal scenes did. We conclude that visual awareness is not needed for object-background integration or for processing the likelihood of an object to appear within a given semantic context, but may be needed for dealing with novel situations.

Yes, it is gratifying that this group has shown integration at a unconscious level. However, it is not particularly surprising. A little review of perception will help to see this. Sensory information arrives at the primary sensory areas of the cortex and is processed there. All this is unconscious – we have no awareness of this primary processing. Next the information from the primary areas arrives to higher areas where it is further processed into objects, moving or not, in 3D space; distinct noises, musical chords and speech sounds; and so on for each sense and for the senses together. Again all this is unconscious – we have no awareness of this higher level processing. Next a model world is built and the significance of various aspects of that model are found for both bottom up criteria and top down criteria. We need the model and the significance in order to have the conscious experience with a focus of attention and a general awareness. We are not aware of the creation of the model or search for significance, we are only aware of the finished product, conscious awareness. Our conscious awareness is like a small tip showing above an enormous iceberg of thought we are not aware of.

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